Could HDB’s Woodleigh Glen in Bidadari represent the future of Singapore’s public housing?
Eight roof gardens, a façade design accented by bright orange fins and a sloping roofline. These are just some features of the newest residential precinct by the Housing and Development Board (HDB), Woodleigh Glen, set within the Bidadari housing estate. Pass by and it could easily be mistaken for a private condominium development when it is in fact public housing.
Built in late 2022, Woodleigh Glen is nestled off the junction of Upper Serangoon, Bartley and Braddell Roads, just a stone’s throw from Woodleigh MRT Station along the North East Line (NEL). Because of its location at a prominent junction, it appears that the HDB has put in extra care in ensuring the design of the precinct is not just liveable but also distinctive.
With most HDB Build-to-Order (BTO) projects designed by external consultants today, Woodleigh Glen and the neighbouring Woodleigh Hillside stand out for the fact that they are designed in-house by the HDB’s very own Building and Research Institute (HDB BRI).
Notable HDB BRI projects from recent times include the four Punggol Northshore residential precincts as well as Punggol Northshore Plaza, the HDB’s inaugural seafront neighbourhood centre and the first to be designed by the HDB itself in over 20 years.
One of the HDB BRI’s roles is to experiment with new typologies and features in public housing, so they can be adopted downstream by other consultants if proven to be successful. It is through this lens we can appreciate some unique features found in Woodleigh Glen.
Strong design elements
Comprising a total of nine residential blocks, one of which is for rent only, Woodleigh Glen has been finished in an earthy palette of brown, yellow, orange and grey. The precinct is split down the middle by a “village green”, a landscaped garden walkway that serves as a pedestrian-only axis connecting all blocks of the project at ground level.
At one end of this village green lies Block 208A, the sole rental block of the project and at the other end is the precinct’s main arrival plaza. Lush and very thoughtfully landscaped, it would not be hard to imagine an outdoor Christmas Market lining the green should we live in a different climate.
Above (literally and figuratively) the village green, Woodleigh Glen boasts eight roof gardens, mainly sited on top of the very much hidden multi-storey car parks, spread across the entire precinct. Six of the roof gardens are located between residential blocks within the project and each has either a children’s playground or an exercise area.
The other two roof gardens are located above the finger extensions of Blocks 206B and 206C. These are linear in shape and oriented toward the Bidadari Hillock, a part of the upcoming Bidadari Park, identified by the Nature Society (Singapore) and other stakeholders as an area of high avian biodiversity. The two roof gardens were specially designed to allow residents a vantage point from which to bird watch.
Beyond all the green features of Woodleigh Glen, the precinct’s buildings have also been adorned with an amazingly intricate facade design. Vertical and horizontal precast fins provide sun shading to the predominantly north-south oriented blocks, with some of the vertical design elements spread over two storeys. Even the rental block employs them, giving residents a strong identity marker. This is a far cry from the plain vanilla HDB blocks from the past.
Designing against discrimination
Special care has been taken by the HDB BRI to integrate the rental block into the precinct too. This goes beyond the above-mentioned facade design to the layout of the block. Those built in the late 2000s and 2010s tended to have an austere design and usually come with porous common corridors on one side and a wall of clothes drying racks on the other.
At Woodleigh Glen, the architects have instead employed an E-shaped design, avoiding what could have become a massive opaque wall, while still fitting 168 one-room and 144 two-room flats in one single block.
To be fair, this is not the first time that architects have tried to make government rental blocks more integrated in terms of design, so as not to provide any potential visual cues of discrimination.
Nevertheless, it is heartening to see the practice being adopted at Woodleigh Glen. The result is that the rental block in the project is all but indistinguishable from the BTO blocks, a much welcome design outcome.
Nods to the past
Another subtle design element employed by the HDB BRI at Woodleigh Glen is a nod to some of the most famous HDB blocks ever constructed in this part of Singapore — the Potong Pasir “ski-slope” roofed slab blocks located just one MRT stop away.
Paying homage to them, the architects have included a sloping roofline for all of the blocks in the project, while still keeping all the water tanks out of sight. While not as steeply angled as the roofs found in Potong Pasir, these still go a long way to add a really nice touch.
Besides featuring a large precinct marker at the project’s main arrival plaza and vehicle drop-off point, care has been taken to make the sheltered porch just that little bit more special — with the use of mushroom-like columns holding up what is actually one of the eight roof gardens that serve as the roof of the porch. These columns complement the curves of the landscaping village green just behind it and also the irregular shape of the roof garden directly above.
Lastly, Woodleigh Glen features the return of the exposed stairwells of HDB blocks from the 1960s and 1970s. Pushed to the ends of each block, furthest away from the block’s lift lobbies, these become a sort of “urban beacon” at night, when the entire stairwell is lit.
Four of them are located along the Upper Serangoon Road frontage of the precinct and they can all be prominently seen at night from the Bartley Viaduct as well as at street level.
All these features of Woodleigh Glen add up to more than the sum of its parts. It is not every day that we see a new HDB project that is not only designed for living but also incorporates nods to the storied history of the HDB. One can only hope that this is a sign of things to come for the future of HDB developments on the whole.